St. Joseph Church (Chicago Heights) History

On Sept. 11, 1905, Archbishop James E. Quigley appointed Rev. Francis Grzes, an assistant at Immaculate Conception Church in South Chicago, to organize a Polish parish in Chicago Heights. As early as 1903, Rev. A. Koytek had established a mission in the area and for the next two years, the Polish Catholics of Chicago Heights were attended from Assumption, BVM parish in the West Pullman neighborhood of Chicago.

Awaiting Father Grzes was a group of about 40 families, Americans of Polish descent, for whom life was not complete unless it was lived in the shadow of a Catholic Church and school. The only other Catholic Church in Chicago Heights at the time was St. Agnes at 1515 Chicago Rd. but it was a predominantly Irish parish in which the Poles did not feel at ease.

A combination building was erected at a cost of $6,000, but with the influx of more Polish families, it became feasible to build a church and hall on 15th St. The imposing edifice of St. Joseph was dedicated on Oct. 25, 1914; its tall spire can be seen from a distance of two miles. The lovely interior with its high altars, artistic Stations of the Cross and statues not only catches the eye, but moves the heart to prayer. In 1916, a rectory was constructed at 267 E. 15th St. and a school was opened under the direction of the Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help from St. Louis, MO. The Sisters took up residence in part of the school building at 271 E. 15th St.

In June 1918, Father Grzes was appointed pastor of the Polish parish of St. Barbara in Chicago and Rev. Wenceslaus Warakomski began his work in Chicago Heights. By 1925, enrollment in the parish school numbered 502 children.

Following Father Warakomski’s death on Apr. 24, 1928 at the age of 46, Rev. Stanislaus Doberstein was named pastor of St. Joseph Church effective May 11, 1928. He came to Chicago Heights from Blue Island, IL, where he had been pastor of St. Isidore Church. Under his leadership, the church was redecorated and a new organ was purchased. About 500 persons attended a special concert on Mar. 21, 1937 following the blessing of the organ.

After Father Doberstein resigned his post, Rev. Alois Szczerkowski, a former assistant at St. James Church on the northwest side of Chicago, was appointed pastor in April 1938.

A history of the parish published in The New World of Nov. 15, 1940 contained the information that: “In addition to a splendid parochial unit St. Joseph’s has its own cemetery of 20 acres near Steger, IL, known as Mt. Calvary Cemetery.” Parish membership then numbered about 500 families with 164 children enrolled in the school.

In January 1944, Rev. John G. Peterson, a former assistant at Five Holy Martyrs Church in Chicago, was appointed pastor of St. Joseph parish to succeed Father Szczerkowski, who had been named pastor of Good Shepherd Church in the city.

During his long tenure as pastor, Father Peterson directed a building program which included the construction of the present rectory in 1953 at 275 E. 15th St. The golden jubilee of the founding of St. Joseph parish was celebrated on Oct. 30, 1955. Plans were then underway for a modern brick school at 267 E. 15th St. to accommodate the 300 children enrolled. The new structure, which contained classrooms and convent quarters, was dedicated by Samuel Cardinal Stritch on Sept. 1, 1957.

In November 1960, Father Peterson was named pastor of St. Michael Church in South Chicago and Rev. Paul A. Mytys, founder of Mother of God parish in Burnham, IL, was appointed pastor.

Following Father Mytys’ death on June 10, 1961 at the age of 54, Rev. Michael J. Wasiel, a former assistant at St. Casimir Church in Chicago, was named pastor. He served the people of St. Joseph parish until Mar. 4, 1966 when he was appointed to the pastorate of the Polish parish of Sacred Heart in Chicago.

Rev. Walter Stefanski, a former assistant at St. Andrew the Apostle parish in Calumet City, IL, served as pastor in Chicago Heights for nearly three years until his appointment as pastor of St. Pancratius Church in Chicago.

Rev. Clarence J. Juchinski was named pastor of St. Joseph Church effective Jan. 12, 1970. He was familiar with this parish, having served as an assistant from 1964 to 1969.

Over the years, 33 young women from St. Joseph parish entered the religious life, all but one joining the Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The Rosary Ladies’ Sodality, organized in 1906, is still very active in the parish and the Holy Name Society, established in 1952, continues its support of parish activities. The Third Order of St. Francis continues in existence with just a few members, some of whom were present when the group was formed in 1912. The principal functions of all these groups are to make their members and all with whom they come in contact better Catholics, to assist the parish, and to foster a spirit of social activity.

In 1978, 300 families belonged to St. Joseph parish and 119 students were enrolled in the school under the direction of six Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Approximately 60 Catholic children who are enrolled in area elementary grade schools attend the CCD program on Saturday mornings.

Two permanent deacons-John Jerz and Frank Prist-have been ordained from the parish.

From “A History of the Parishes of the Archdiocese of Chicago” – 1980

Reprinted with the permission of the Chicago Archdiocese.